Palm mute
The palm mute is a playing technique for guitar
The guitar is a plucked string instrument, usually played with fingers or a pick. The guitar consists of a body with a rigid neck to which the strings, generally six in number, are attached. Guitars are traditionally constructed of various woods and strung with animal gut or, more recently, with...

 and bass guitar
Bass guitar
The bass guitar is a stringed instrument played primarily with the fingers or thumb , or by using a pick....

 executed by placing the side of the picking hand below the little finger across all of the strings very close to the bridge and then plucking the strings with the fingers while the damping is in effect. This produces a muted sound. The name is a slight misnomer, as the muting is usually performed by the side or heel of the hand.

Palm muting is a standard technique used in classical guitar performance and by electric guitar
Electric guitar
An electric guitar is a guitar that uses the principle of direct electromagnetic induction to convert vibrations of its metal strings into electric audio signals. The signal generated by an electric guitar is too weak to drive a loudspeaker, so it is amplified before sending it to a loudspeaker...

ists who play with a pick
Guitar pick
A guitar pick is a plectrum used for guitars. A pick is generally made of one uniform material; examples include plastic, nylon, rubber, felt, tortoiseshell, wood, metal, glass, and stone...

. Palm muting is so widely used as to be idiomatic in heavy metal
Heavy metal music
Heavy metal is a genre of rock music that developed in the late 1960s and early 1970s, largely in the Midlands of the United Kingdom and the United States...

, and particularly in thrash
Thrash metal
Thrash metal is a subgenre of heavy metal that is characterized usually by its fast tempo and aggression. Songs of the genre typically use fast percussive and low-register guitar riffs, overlaid with shredding-style lead work...

, speed
Speed metal
Speed metal is a sub-genre of heavy metal music that originated in the late 1970s from NWOBHM and hardcore punk roots. It is described by Allmusic as "extremely fast, abrasive, and technically demanding" music....

 and death metal
Death metal
Death metal is an extreme subgenre of heavy metal. It typically employs heavily distorted guitars, tremolo picking, deep growling vocals, blast beat drumming, minor keys or atonality, and complex song structures with multiple tempo changes....

, but it is often found in any style of music that features electric guitars with distortion in the signal's preamplification stage. It is responsible for the characteristic "chugging" sound of distorted guitar music. Palm muting can also be used in conjunction with a wah pedal to produce the distinctive scratching sound often heard in disco
Disco is a genre of dance music. Disco acts charted high during the mid-1970s, and the genre's popularity peaked during the late 1970s. It had its roots in clubs that catered to African American, gay, psychedelic, and other communities in New York City and Philadelphia during the late 1960s and...


Palm-muting is also used by electric bassists in order to obtain a warm, "thumpy" tone that is sometimes similar to that of a double bass
Double bass
The double bass, also called the string bass, upright bass, standup bass or contrabass, is the largest and lowest-pitched bowed string instrument in the modern symphony orchestra, with strings usually tuned to E1, A1, D2 and G2...

. The strings may be plucked with the thumb, or with a pick which gives a more percussive tone.

Aspects of performance

There are many ways to perform palm muting, but, generally the following are recognized:
  • Applied pressure. Amount of applied pressure tends to vary the sound a lot. Slight touch makes light muting, thus producing more pronounced, fuller sounds. Pressing the hand down intensively makes heavy muting, enhancing staccato
    Staccato is a form of musical articulation. In modern notation it signifies a note of shortened duration and separated from the note that may follow by silence...

     effect, adding percussion and making notes less recognizable. Certainly, with some amplification gain, heavily muted notes sound quieter than lightly muted, but given a fair amount of compression
    Audio level compression
    Dynamic range compression, also called DRC or simply compression reduces the volume of loud sounds or amplifies quiet sounds by narrowing or "compressing" an audio signal's dynamic range...

    , loudness levels become the same and heavily muted notes sound less muddy, with fewer overtone
    An overtone is any frequency higher than the fundamental frequency of a sound. The fundamental and the overtones together are called partials. Harmonics are partials whose frequencies are whole number multiples of the fundamental These overlapping terms are variously used when discussing the...

    s and tonal characteristics than lightly muted.

  • Hand position. The most common way to play with palm muting is placing the edge of picking hand near the bridge, dampening the strings when necessary. However, moving the hand further from the bridge and closer to the bridge changes effect drastically. Moving the hand closer to the bridge (and even resting part of edge on the bridge) makes palm muting lighter. Moving the hand farther from bridge (going up to the neck) makes palm muting heavier. Note that resting the palm on the bridge is usually considered a bad practice among guitarists (other than for performing palm muting) for the following reasons:
    • Ergonomic: it is generally not very ergonomic to play this way; maintaining the picking hand edge always strictly parallel to the bridge rivets the motions and encumbers performance of most advanced techniques;
    • Metal part corrosion: while playing intensively, hands usually become sweaty; sweat
      SWEAT is an OLN/TSN show hosted by Julie Zwillich that aired in 2003-2004.Each of the 13 half-hour episodes of SWEAT features a different outdoor sport: kayaking, mountain biking, ice hockey, beach volleyball, soccer, windsurfing, rowing, Ultimate, triathlon, wakeboarding, snowboarding, telemark...

       coming in contact with metal bridge hastens its corrosion
      Corrosion is the disintegration of an engineered material into its constituent atoms due to chemical reactions with its surroundings. In the most common use of the word, this means electrochemical oxidation of metals in reaction with an oxidant such as oxygen...

      ; metal strings corrode too, but strings are considered a consumable, while the bridge is more expensive.
    • Tremolo interference: when using floating tremolo bridge, such as Floyd Rose
      Floyd Rose
      The Floyd Rose Locking Tremolo, or simply Floyd Rose, is a type of locking vibrato arm for a guitar. The first of its kind, Floyd D. Rose invented the locking vibrato in 1977, and it is now manufactured by a company of the same name...

      , applying pressure to the bridge may affect the pitch of played strings.

  • Amount of amplification (gain).

  • Muted notes / chords. Generally, it's recognized that full chords (with 3') sound muddy with large amounts of amplification and distortion, unlike single notes and power chord
    Power chord
    In music, a power chord is a chord consisting of only the root note of the chord and the fifth interval, usually played on electric guitar, and typically through an amplification process that imparts distortion...

    s. Sustain sound coming from each string simultaneously makes large amounts of overlapping overtones after distortion and thus a chord loses its clarity. Palm muting of such chords helps to alleviate this problem, giving notes chuggier, more distortion-friendly sound.

Palm muting is a basis for many other techniques, especially those specific to electric guitars, such as sweep picking or alternate picking
Alternate picking
Alternate picking is a guitar playing technique that employs strictly alternating downward and upward picking strokes in a continuous run, and is the most common method of plectrum playing...



In guitar tablature
Tablature is a form of musical notation indicating instrument fingering rather than musical pitches....

, palm mutes are rendered with a "P.M." or "PM", and a dashed or dotted line for the duration of the phrase to be muted. If the pitches of the muted notes are discernible, the fret numbers are given accordingly, otherwise they are represented with an X in lieu of a tab number. (If an X appears in lieu of a tab number but there is no P.M. directive, this usually means to mute the string using the fretting hand, not the picking hand.)

e |------------------|
B |--8-------8-------|
G |--7-------7-------|
D |--6-------6-------|
A |--7-------7-------|
E |----0-0-0---0-0-0-|

Recorded examples

One popular song with palm muting is "Basket Case
Basket Case (song)
"Basket Case" is a song by American punk rock band Green Day. It was released as the third single from their third album, Dookie. The song spent five weeks at the top of the Modern Rock Tracks chart.Rolling Stone Readers ranked it No...

" by Green Day
Green Day
Green Day is an American punk rock band formed in 1987. The band consists of lead vocalist and guitarist Billie Joe Armstrong, bassist and backing vocalist Mike Dirnt, and drummer Tre Cool...

, where power chords are accented then muted to create a sense of energy and urgency.

> PM--------| > PM-| < PM--| > PM-| < PM- > PM> PM-| < PM--| <
d# |-----------------|-------------------|-----------------|-------------------|
A# |-----------------|-------------------|-----------------|-------------------|
F# |-9---------------|-------------------|-----6-----6-----|-------------------|
C# |-9-9-9-9-9-9-9-9-|-----9-------9-x-x-|-6-6-6-6-6-6---6-|-----6-------6-x-x-|
G# |-7-7-7-7-7-7-7-9-|-9-9-9-9-9-9-9-x-x-|-4-4-4-4-4-4-6-6-|-6-6-6-6-6-6-6-x-x-|
D# |---------------7-|-7-7-7-7-7-7-7-x-x-|-------------4-4-|-4-4-4-4-4-4-4-x-x-|

More aggressive styles of palm muting grew out of thrash metal
Thrash metal
Thrash metal is a subgenre of heavy metal that is characterized usually by its fast tempo and aggression. Songs of the genre typically use fast percussive and low-register guitar riffs, overlaid with shredding-style lead work...

 in the mid-late 1980s with bands such as Metallica
Metallica is an American heavy metal band from Los Angeles, California. Formed in 1981 when James Hetfield responded to an advertisement that drummer Lars Ulrich had posted in a local newspaper. The current line-up features long-time lead guitarist Kirk Hammett and bassist Robert Trujillo ...

, Slayer
Slayer is an American thrash metal band formed in Huntington Park, California, in 1981 by guitarists Jeff Hanneman and Kerry King. Slayer rose to fame with their 1986 release, Reign in Blood, and is credited as one of the "Big Four" thrash metal acts, along with Metallica, Megadeth and...

, Anthrax
Anthrax (band)
Anthrax is an American heavy metal band from New York City, formed in 1981. Founded by guitarists Scott Ian and Danny Lilker, the band has since released ten studio albums and 20 singles, and an EP featuring Public Enemy. The band was one of the most popular of the 1980s thrash metal scene...

 and Megadeth
Megadeth is an American heavy metal band from Los Angeles, California which was formed in 1983 by guitarist/vocalist Dave Mustaine, bassist Dave Ellefson and guitarist Greg Handevidt, following Mustaine's expulsion from Metallica. The band has since released 13 studio albums, three live albums, two...

. The technique was fused with fast alternate picking
Alternate picking
Alternate picking is a guitar playing technique that employs strictly alternating downward and upward picking strokes in a continuous run, and is the most common method of plectrum playing...

, under high gain, to create a driving, percussive effect. Other uses of palm muting can be heard in post-punk bands like Gang of Four
Gang of Four (band)
Gang of Four are an English post-punk group from Leeds. Original personnel were singer Jon King, guitarist Andy Gill, bass guitarist Dave Allen and drummer Hugo Burnham. They were fully active from 1977 to 1984, and then re-emerged twice in the 1990s with King and Gill...

 and Talking Heads
Talking Heads
Talking Heads were an American New Wave and avant-garde band formed in 1975 in New York City and active until 1991. The band comprised David Byrne, Chris Frantz, Tina Weymouth and Jerry Harrison...

, as well as in contemporary musicians such as Isaac Brock
Isaac Brock (musician)
Isaac Brock is the lead singer, guitarist, banjoist, and songwriter for the American indie rock band Modest Mouse, as well as his side project band, Ugly Casanova...

 of Modest Mouse
Modest Mouse
Modest Mouse is an American indie rock band formed in 1993 in Issaquah, Washington, by singer/lyricist/guitarist Isaac Brock, drummer Jeremiah Green, and bassist Eric Judy. They are based in Portland, Oregon. Since their 1996 debut album, This Is a Long Drive for Someone with Nothing to Think...


External links

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